BALTIMORE -- Emmy Hubert Mogilensky and her brother grieved when the Red Cross sent them a message in 1946 saying their parents had died in a Nazi concentration camp. But as time passed, they viewed the letter as a "comfort, a closure."
"For us, the questions were finally answered, and we could go on with our lives," the 67-year-old Pikesville woman said at the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center, which opened Monday in Baltimore.
The center will help people learn the fate of their loved ones who died or were interned in concentration and forced labor camps under the Third Reich. It was opened to handle a flood of requests expected since the Soviet Union released records last year of 400,000 people killed or imprisoned in the camps.
The documents, which Soviet soldiers recovered when prisoners were liberated from the camps, include nearly 70,000 death certificates from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
Also included are the names of 130,000 prisoners used for forced labor in various German firms and 200,000 victims in other camps, including Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen and Buchenwald.
"The pain of not knowing where they were. If they were murdered in the camp. Did they die in the cattle cars on the way to the camp? It haunts you. It does not let you rest," Mogilensky said.
She said she sympathizes with people who, after 45 years, are still trying to find out what happened to their relatives.
"Can you doubt the value of these 400,000 records? Can you imagine after 45 years still wondering, still not knowing?" she asked. "Each one of these records could be a blessing."
Millions of people, mostly Jews, were imprisoned during Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and an estimated 6 million Jews were killed.
Western allies released concentration camp documents soon after World War II. But Soviet authorities kept the records sealed, despite repeated requests. The Soviet government began releasing them last year.
Copies of the Soviet documents are at the International Tracing Service in Arolsen, West Germany, a branch of the Central Tracing Agency of the International Committee of the Red Cross. There are 46 million documents already on file in Arolsen pertaining to 13 million people.
"When I viewed a room filled with 46 million index cards, I knew that the scope of our mission was beyond anything imaginable," said Alfred Himmelrick Jr., 57, a Baltimore businessman who went to see the records in Germany on a liaison mission for the new tracing center.
"These people, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their cousins, aunts and uncles were no longer able to give voice to say, 'Here I am.' It was then that the 13 million people on file became real, not abstract.
People wishing to learn the fate of relatives or friends can obtain inquiry forms from local American Red Cross chapters. Caseworkers will send the completed forms to the tracing center in Baltimore, where they will be translated into German and forwarded to the International Tracing Service in Arolsen.
Diane Paul, program director of the Central Maryland Red Cross, said certification of death or forced labor can take months.